Former Minnesota Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger has been a cogent advocate for health care reform since his days in Washington (1978-94.) His latest newsletter as head of the National Institute of Health Policy, based at the University of St. Thomas, calls on the Senate to follow the House's lead, and pass a comprehensive reform bill this year.

The House's bill, and the version that the Senate will likely send to conference committee, should be seen as important but incomplete steps in a multi-year journey toward better health care for Americans, Durenberger argues. The initial step represented by legislation is mandatory for the journey to continue, he says.

Durenberger, a devout Catholic who grew up near the campus of St. John's University, where his father was the longtime football coach, also had surprisingly sharp words about the role of Catholic bishops in dictating the terms of the House's health care bill.

"How did a national law to prevent insurance companies, whose premium costs are defrayed in part by tax subsidies, from providing medical services related to abortion get to be a higher public priority for all Americans, not just Catholics, than financing access to health care services?" Durenberger asked. "As a Catholic Republican, I am puzzled by the way in which mere mortals can shift the moral priorities of a Church over what, for a 2,000-year-old religion, is a relatively short period of time."

He recalled that as a member of the U.S. Senate, he "stood proudly with my Church in opposition to the expansion of the nuclear arms race, in definition of a just war, in efforts to reduce racial and economic discrimination and enact historic civil rights legislation." He made clear that he's not as proud of the Catholic bishops' lobbying of late.